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Hope after the storm in Puerto Rico

Three visitors! No big deal on some Sundays . . . lost in the crowd at some churches . . . a below-average turnout on many occasions.
Certainly nothing to write home about (or for Forward in Christ).  

But this is different. There hadn’t been one single visitor at Cordero de Dios (Lamb of God) Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico for months. In fact, there hadn’t even been a worship service there for almost year and a half! 

When Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico in September 2018, it devastated much of the Island of Enchantment, as it is known. Buildings were destroyed, power grids were damaged, and cell phone towers were knocked down. Tragically, lives were lost. Morale deflated quickly. As the days and weeks and months passed with no electricity, water, Internet, or cell phone service, tensions started to rise, hope began to depart, and a feeling of helplessness set in. 

Our brothers and sisters who are members of the three congregations of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico were also affected. While one church building was damaged, another wooden chapel was completely destroyed. Worship services at Cordero de Dios in Humacao stopped. There was no place to gather! 

As news of the devastation brought by Maria spread, WELS members responded quickly in love. Generous donations were received for hurricane relief. WELS leaders visited Puerto Rico and assured our fellow believers that we would walk through this together. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided shortterm help and a longer term plan of assistance. Retired Pastor Larry Schlomer and his wife Marlene spenseveral months in Puerto Rico coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts. Volunteers from the States came to lend a hand. Pastors and leaders and church members worked together to rebuild homes and churchesand hope. 

On Feb. 10, the newly rebuilt (in concrete) chapel in Humacao was dedicated to God’s glory. Members from the three island congregations gathered together to thank God and celebrate his goodness. During the service, long-time member and seminary student Kelly Alvarez was ordained and installed as pastor of Mi Dios Verdadero (My True God) Lutheran Church in San Juan. The message from God’s Word that day included the reminder that we are a holy temple in the Lord, being built up together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:21,22). 

What will happen next in Puerto Rico? Two pastors currently serve in the town of Guayama. One pastor and one student pastor serve in San Juan. A rotation of pastors leads worship in Humacao. There are still jobs to finish, but now plans for gospel ministry can be worked out in order to share the good news with those visitors as well as to reach out to those who likely won’t come on their own. 

What can we learn from all this? God in his wisdom allowed Hurricane Maria to pass through Puerto Rico, but the Lord will not abandon his people or his church. In fact, he often creates opportunities out of challenges. Think of those visitors from the neighborhood who saw the work on the church progressing, shared the excitement, and wanted to be part of that special day. People do notice the fruit of our labor, but they need encouragement. Let’s keep on encouraging, inviting, witnessing and pointing other to Jesus.  

What can we do now for Puerto Rico? Please pray for those three visitors in Humacao. Pray for our three congregations in Puerto Rico, which still face challenges. Pray that the gospel might be preached and believed in Puerto Rico, to God’s glory.  

Because as we look forward to the Last Day, this is our attitude as we live and work for God’s glory and the spread of his kingdom today and tomorrow: The best is yet to come!


Timothy Satorius, WELS liaison to the Puerto Rican church 


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Author: Timothy Satorius
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Church dedication in Puerto Rico

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria swept over the island of Puerto Rico causing great devastation and destruction.

WELS members responded generously with gifts to WELS Christian Aid and Relief. But the devastation caused by the storm made communication with fellow Christians in Puerto Rico difficult. It was hard to know what needed to be done to help and how that help could be delivered.

Early last summer WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent retired missionary Rev. Larry Schlomer Sr. to the island. He was asked to stay for up to a year to help the church leaders determine what needed to be done and then to help organize relief and rebuilding efforts.

God has graciously taken care of the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico and restored their church in Humacao. On Feb. 10, 2019, this church celebrated the completion of the rebuilt church with a dedication service. Many of the national pastors were in attendance along with Rev. Larry Schlomer Sr., WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder, and Rev. Tim Satorius.

View a slideshow of the dedication service.

WELS CAR - Puerto Rico Church Rededication

A joyful event in Puerto Rico

In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Puerto Rico with a vengeance. It is regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect the two islands. At its peak with maximum sustained winds at 175 mph, the hurricane caused catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities across the northeastern Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, the population suffered from flooding, the worst electrical blackout in U.S. history, and extreme damage and destruction to property.

Our sister synod, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico, was severely impacted. The church building in Guayama suffered extensive damage; the church in Humacao was completely destroyed. Homes of pastors and many members also were damaged.

WELS members responded generously with gifts to WELS Christian Aid and Relief. But the devastation caused by the storm made communication with our fellow Christians in Puerto Rico difficult. Damaged infrastructure made quick efforts to provide relief impossible. It was difficult to know what needed to be done to help and how that help could be delivered.

Early last summer WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent retired missionary Rev. Larry Schlomer to the island. He was asked to stay for up to a year to help the church leaders determine what needed to be done and then to help organize relief and rebuilding efforts.

In the months after Pastor Schlomer’s arrival, he worked, along with WELS volunteer Jerry Zimpelmann, to coordinate repairs to the church at Guayama and to the homes of pastors and members. They also coordinated the work of WELS volunteers who came to Puerto Rico to assist. Most of that work is completed. Significantly, this weekend marks a milestone in WELS efforts to help our sister church body. The church at Humacao has been completely rebuilt and will be rededicated in a worship service on Feb. 10.

Our fellow Christians in Puerto Rico have expressed their deep gratitude to God and to WELS members for this assistance. We thank God for our partnership in the gospel with our fellow believers in Puerto Rico, and we thank God for moving the people of WELS to make these relief and rebuilding efforts possible.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about WELS Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief.

Christian Aid and Relief

WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided $850,000 in humanitarian aid and disaster relief grants in 2018. The organization works through WELS pastors and congregational leaders to assess needs, distribute aid, and bring in volunteers when requested.

Much of the money granted in 2018 was to help congregations recover from hurricane damage. Hurricanes Florence and Michael both damaged WELS churches and the homes of members and neighbors.

Christian Aid and Relief is also continuing to help with rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico following 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Christian Aid and Relief approved a $150,000 hurricane relief grant for phase one of repair and rebuilding to help the Confessional Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico, WELS’ sister church body. This grant will help rebuild the church building in Humacao, the church in Guayama, and pastors’ homes. Volunteers are expected to begin work in Puerto Rico early in 2019. Pictured are WELS President Mark Schroeder, Board for World Missions administrator Larry Schlomer, and Commission on Inter-Church Relations member Tim Satorius.

For more information or to volunteer, visit wels.net/relief.

Christian Aid and Relief Oct. 2018 update

When Hurricane Michael made landfall, Amazing Grace, Panama City, Fla., took a direct hit. Rev. Jerry Enderle, pastor at Amazing Grace, reports the church and parsonage suffered extensive damage, as did several members’ homes, along with the entire community. Rev. Joel Russow, pastor of Faith, Tallahassee, Fla., also reports trees down in the neighborhood, but the church and parsonage are okay.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief chairman, Rev. Robert Hein, reports:

“We have mobilized relief trailers from Mobile, Ala., and Jacksonville, Fla., to assist in cleanup and recovery efforts. Right now, some areas are still hard to reach and power is still out. For the short term, Risen Savior, Navarre, Fla., served by Rev. Craig Born, is serving as the relief staging area. Members of the local WELS congregations in Florida and Alabama are eager to help out once it is feasible to go into the affected areas. We have also made funds available to local pastors to provide immediate aid to those in need and to purchase needed supplies. Efforts are underway to provide temporary housing for those displaced from their homes.

“Many homes suffered roof damage, so our first priority is putting plywood and tarps on top of the parsonage and sanctuary at Amazing Grace and salvaging sanctuary furniture, and then repeating those steps for members with major loss. We will bring in a project manager soon to help us assess damage and opportunities for assistance throughout the community. We also made a $10,000 gift to Direct Relief, which provides immediate assistance to people affected by this hurricane.”

While Christian Aid and Relief is working to assess and help with the recent hurricane damage, it is also conducting ongoing rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of last fall’s Hurricane Maria. Missionary Larry W. Schlomer accepted a call to Puerto Rico in June 2018 to assist in coordinating the rebuilding and repairing of churches and pastors’ homes as well as aiding in the ongoing training of our sister church body’s future called workers.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief approved a $150,000 hurricane relief grant for phase one of repair and rebuilding in Puerto Rico, which includes rebuilding the church building in Humacao, repairing the church in Guayama, and repairing pastors’ homes. Schlomer reports that rebuilding in Humacao began earlier this fall.

To support WELS Christian Aid and Relief hurricane relief efforts, you can donate online (select “Hurricane Disaster Relief” in the designation field) or send it to WELS Christian Aid and Relief, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Dr. Waukesha, WI 53188, and designate it for the “Hurricane Fund.” If you’d like to volunteer to help with clean up and repair work, visit wels.net/relief and fill out the volunteer form.

 

 

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Same mission, new methods

One hundred twenty-five years ago WELS sent its first world missionary to the Apache reservation in Arizona to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Following that first mission initiative, WELS World Missions has sought to reach many corners of the globe. Recently new opportunities have arisen to support confessional Lutheran church bodies and other groups of Christians who have reached out to WELS for help. Now WELS Missions has a presence in 50 countries, with 14 prospective new fields and 44 missionaries.

Larry Schlomer, administrator for World Missions, says, “After 125 years of work in Apacheland and 60-plus years in other countries, our mission partners have achieved a great level of maturity. That allows us to approach our mission work as partners, not as owners, and this is what makes just about any partner church a ‘world mission.’ ”

One way WELS Missions is teaming up with sister churches and new mission partners is through helping train fellow confessional Lutherans around the world through the Pastoral Studies Institute, a ministry of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. More efficient transportation and communication vehicles make this work possible.

“One of the biggest changes is how we’re immediately training the people groups and locals to be their own proclaimers of the gospel,” says Sean Young, director of Joint Missions Operations. “It eliminates anywhere between three and seven years of a WELS missionary landing in a foreign field getting to know the people, getting to know the culture, and finding the best way to approach them with sharing the gospel. To train someone at that level to share the gospel is far more cost-effective and far more expedient than it is for one of our missionaries to get to know the culture and the area and the language.”

How WELS comes to work with these different fields is varied. One common avenue is immigrant people groups in the United States who learn about what the Bible teaches and want to share it with their family and friends in their home country. Sometimes, these national church leaders find WELS through the Internet. In 2018, the WELS website, wels.net, has had visitors from more than 100 countries.

One recent example of this is the Philippines. A church leader there contacted WELS Missions after discovering what WELS teaches through its website. Schlomer explains, “He never needed our help to do the work but rather craved the Bible fellowship we could offer. The partnership has been noticed by other leaders who are now being trained in two additional church sites. Our role is to offer the training tools and supplemental teachers to aid the church leader in training these new men to be leaders.”

WELS World Missions also offers support through humanitarian aid, which can lead to opportunities to spread the gospel. In Puerto Rico, an opportunity to help came following Hurricane Maria. While WELS has historical mission roots in Puerto Rico, the Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Church (ELCC) has been operating independently for years. But after the hurricane hit, WELS, through World Missions and Christian Aid and Relief, is providing a missionary to assist with relief planning support as well as to help train the next generation of young men as public ministers. While the missionary’s stay in Puerto Rico is meant to be temporary, the training work will be continued online, supplemented by short visits for seminars.

“There may still be times and places where missionaries are on the ground preaching, teaching, baptizing, and serving the Lord’s Supper,” says Schlomer. “However, when we have a national leader in place, we have always been eager to allow that national to step into those roles and our missionaries serve much more as teachers and mentors.”


Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author:
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Latin America Mission Updates

When you think of Academia Cristo, think of Luther’s Catechism. Martin Luther developed his catechism after coming to recognize the extreme lack of basic biblical understanding among church leaders and heads of families. He describes visiting churches in Saxony that didn’t have the Bible or whose leaders had not memorized the 10 commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. A similar lack of basic Christian knowledge is what led to and guides Academia Cristo’s ministry efforts to help more people plant and lead churches that faithfully proclaim God’s Word. WELS Latin America Missions has been busy sharing the good news of Jesus – here are some updates:

New WELS Presence in Puerto Rico

Rev. Larry W. Schlomer has accepted the call to serve for one year as a disaster response coordinator for Puerto Rico. In this role he will work with the national pastors of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico to identify and prioritize specific needs, plan construction and repair projects, and coordinate volunteer efforts. He will also help to coordinate continuing theological training for two men whose training was interrupted by Hurricane Maria last fall. Schlomer has already begun efforts to connect interested Latino members of stateside WELS congregations with the outreach and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Rev. Larry W. Schlomer with his wife Marlene

Besides assisting in disaster response, Schlomer hopes to establish an enduring and close connection between the Puerto Rican church and our Latin America Missions team. These connections will help strengthen fellowship ties and allow for the continued sharing of ministry ideas and encouragement.


Academia Cristo – Training course interest remains high

Latin American woman shares Academia Cristo with her family

There are currently 150 people studying online in the Academia Cristo Catechism level training program. Here are examples of three courses:

  1. The Bible: In The Beginning – In this course, students learn the first Genesis Bible history courses and how to teach them to others using a teaching methodology based on Luther’s simple way to pray.
  2. The Word Grows: Multiplying Disciples – In this evangelism course, students study the lives of Paul and Barnabas, Mark the Evangelist, and early church leaders such as Priscila, Aquila, and Apollos. Those who successfully complete the course are invited to personally connect with a mature Lutheran leader who will be responsible for guiding and mentoring them as they learn to faithfully proclaim God’s Word to others.
  3. Spiritual Identity – In this course, students learn why there are so many different church bodies, the importance of making a clear confession, and connecting with those who make a clear confession while avoiding those who do not.

In addition to online courses, live Academia Cristo face-to-face workshops have been taught in Colorado, Florida, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay, and Venezuela so far this year.


WELS Missionaries relocating to Ecuador

This summer two missionaries from the One Latin America (1LA) mission team will be moving to Ecuador. This will be the first time WELS will have an active mission presence in the South American country. Rev. Nathan Schulte and Rev. Phil Strackbein have begun making arrangements to make the move. Schulte currently serves in Mexico, and Strackbein serves in Bolivia. Read more wels.net/new-world-mission-start-south-america.


Making Disciples in New Locations

The Apostle Paul was Timothy’s teacher and mentor. He instructed Timothy that he should take “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Note the four generations of disciples mentioned here: Paul, Timothy, reliable, qualified people, and others. Academia Cristo seeks to emulate this model – chains of disciples, training others with the goal of planting new churches, and reaching new areas. It maximizes everyday means of communication to make initial connections.

The strongest of these online connections lead to face-to-face visits. So far this year, missionaries have visited Academia Cristo contacts in central and Eastern Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Argentina. Many are studying to become members in our fellowship. There are now 21 men who are being mentored by WELS missionaries and national church leaders. These men are in turn sharing what they’re learning with those they know as they begin gather groups around the Word of God.


Blessings in Colombia

The Lord continues to bless mission efforts of our brothers and sister in the Colombian Lutheran Church. Two of the first churches planted by men who came into contact with the Colombian Church via Academia Cristo are working to move out of homes and into larger facilities. Please pray God continue to bless these new Lutheran churches in Ibagué, Colombia and Isla Margarita, Venezuela.


To learn more about other outreach opportunities the Lord has provided in Latin America, watch the Academia Cristo Spring 2018 Update Video. 

 

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Plans underway for long-term relief strategy in Puerto Rico

WELS Christian Aid and Relief has announced its plan to call a disaster response coordinator for Puerto Rico who would serve for one year and work with the national pastors of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico to identify and prioritize specific needs, plan construction and repair projects, and coordinate volunteer efforts. He would also help to coordinate continuing theological training for two men whose training was interrupted by Hurricane Maria last fall.

The decision was made after President Mark Schroeder, World Mission Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer, Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young, and Rev. Tim Satorius, WELS Liaison to Puerto Rico, went to Puerto Rico in January to meet with national leaders and discuss further the most effective ways Christian Aid and Relief could help the hurricane-devastated island. Christian Aid and Relief approved the Puerto Rican church leaders’ request to engage a Spanish-speaking WELS pastor for one year.

This pastor will help coordinate the logistics of rebuilding the church in Humacao that was taken out by the hurricane and repairing the damages to the church building in Guayama. He will also oversee the relief efforts of WELS resources and volunteers in Puerto Rico. Finally, he will encourage and guide two young men in their pastoral training so they can lead these churches into the future.

Schlomer says, “The whole country is in a recovery mode. The leaders of the church have other jobs and have their hands full with the spiritual care of the members. This missionary would be able to spend time on the many logistical questions that will be needed in rebuilding and repairing. He will also be able to quicken the pace of training for the two young men that the church in Puerto Rico have chosen as leaders.”

Following Hurricane Maria, Christian Aid and Relief already has helped provide groceries to families in need and sent an immediate gift of $5,000 through Direct Relief. An additional $5,000 was provided for meals for people in the church and community suffering from this disaster. This enabled members of the national church to provide meals for 50 people a day for four weeks.

“[Creating this position] will help the community in Puerto Rico see our Lutheran churches in an active recovery mode with recovery help available for many. Knowing that their partner, WELS, is ready and willing to assist them will be a shot in the arm at a time when they very much need it,” says Schlomer. “Our prayer is that the church infrastructure is repaired and even better than before. We hope that the two new national leaders are well on their way down the path to becoming fully trained pastors. We pray that the partnership with our church in Puerto Rico is vibrant and active to reach the many still lost in darkness.”

Learn more about Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico